Remember Who You Are! A Sermon Celebrating the 75 th Anniversary of Myers Park United Methodist Church Charlotte, North Carolina Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey October 29, 2000 ^PAST.Ce**^ History Myers Park Methodist Episcopal Church, South, as it was originally named, was organized in 1925 and held its first service of worship on October 25, 1925, in the chapel in Queens College Burwell Hall. About one month later, the congregation purchased the property located at the intersection of Queens and Providence Roads. The wooden store which occupied this site was converted into a temporary sanctuary seating about 200 people. By Christmas, church services were being held here, Charter membership was closed on December 31, 1925, with 151 charter members. On the occasion of its 75 th anniversary, Myers Park United Methodist Church has over 4,000 members. Preacher Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey is Bishop of the Columbia Area of the United Methodist Church. He served as Senior Pastor of Myers Park United Methodist Church from 1991-1996, when he was elected to the episcopacy. MYERS PARK 'liwiwom 1925 Digitized by the Internet Archive in 2013 http://archive.org/details/rememberwhoyouarOOjame Remember Who You Are! J. Lawrence McCleskey 75th Anniversary Sermon Myers Park United Methodist Church Charlotte, NC October 29, 2000 Romans 12:1-21; Matthew 5:1-2. 13-16 It's a new breed of thief. They steal the identities of persons. These are people who use the tools of the information age to impersonate other persons, some of them dead, and order hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise in their names. I saw the headline in USA TODAY just a few months ago (May 8, 2000): "IN INTERNET AGE, IDENTITY THEFT HAPPENS 'ALL THE TIME.'" The article went on to tell of a number of instances in which cyberspace criminals literally stole the identities of living and recently deceased business executives by getting access to bank and credit card account numbers, Social Security numbers, and other vital information, which was then used to carry out wire transfers of funds and order diamonds and Rolex watches, which were delivered to hotel addresses where the thieves picked up their booty. The good news was that two men had been arrested and charged with 29 counts of such theft. The bad news is that "identity experts 11 say this kind of theft is relatively easy and 'happens all the time. 11 None of us here would want to have his or her identity stolen in that manner. None of us would want to lose the identifying marks of who he or she is in this way. Our identities are important to us, and we want to maintain them. That is certainly true of us as individuals. I believe it is also true of us in other ways. For instance, I believe that the identity of institutions is also vitally important, and I want to explore with you on this 75th anniversary Sunday some aspects of the identity of this institution we know as Myers Park United Methodist Church. First, a bit about the importance of identity. Jean Paul Sartre, the existentialist philosopher, could be said to have lived by the philosophy that "to be is to do." Descartes, the philosopher famous for the phrase, "I think, therefore I am," could be said to have lived by the philosophy that "to do is to be." Someone once suggested that the singer, Frank Sinatra, lived by the philosophy of "Dooby, dooby, doo." It's a basic issue of life: the relationship between "do" and "be" - between doing and being. The question is simple: does our doing reflect our being? Does what we do, how we act, the manner in which we live, truly reflect who we are, our true identity? Are we true to who we are? If not, it may not be that our identity has been stolen - but that we have given it away. Have you noticed how often Jesus defined himself not by what he did but by who he was? Look at the numerous times in the gospel of John when Jesus referred to his own identity, his being. He referred to himself in significant ways, saying in these instances, "I am" -Messiah, he who is called Christ (4:25-26) -the bread of life (6:35, 41,51) -the gate for the sheep (10:7 & 9) -the good shepherd (10:11 & 14) -the resurrection and the life (1 1 :25) -the way, the truth, and the life (14:6) -the true vine (15:1 & 5) -and, twice to the soldiers looking for Jesus of Nazareth, "I am he." (18:5 & 8) It is obvious that Jesus regarded his identity as important. Jesus was also concerned with the identity of his disciples. The gospel text from Matthew makes that abundantly clear. It comes from The Sermon on the Mount. Following the Beatitudes, those pithy summaries of the kinds of living which Jesus tells us characterize lives committed to the rule of God, Jesus gives us two admonitions which are words about identity: "You are the salt of the earth .... You are the light of the world." It's as if Jesus is saying, "You are to flavor the life of the world by your own lives, by your faithfulness to this life of which I have spoken. And you are to bring light to the world by your own lives, your faithfulness to the life I have taught you. 11 The key is whether his disciples remain true to their identities - whether they remain true to their calling. The key is identity. It's another way of Jesus telling his disciples that when they remember who they are the role of God is extended in the world. "Remember who you are! The work of God depends on it. 11 So I say to this congregation on this anniversary Sunday - as you celebrate 75 years of ministry and step into the next 75 and more: Remember who you are! Hold fast to your identity! Don't let it be taken from you! And don't give it away by simply not remembering! The work of God in this place depends on it. The thing that will keep you faithfUl into the future is the thing that has kept you faithful in the past! Remember who you are! II And what a marvelous identity it is! You are A COMMUNITY GROUNDED IN JESUS CHRIST! This congregation, founded in 1925, moved quickly to build this structure in which we are gathered for worship today. Groundbreaking was held and the cornerstone for this sanctuary was laid in 1929. On March 9, 1930 the congregation worshiped in this building for the first time. There was built into the structure itself a clear and lasting reminder that this community of faith is grounded in Jesus Christ. There are two side entrances at the rear narthex of the sanctuary, and over each of them is an inscription. Both inscriptions come from the gospel of John, from words Jesus used to identify himself. Over the one on the Providence Road side is inscribed: "I am the way. 11 And over the entrance on the Queens Road side is inscribed, "I am the door." The presence of these words over those entrances to this sanctuary is an intentional way of saying from the very beginning, "We are a community grounded in Jesus Christ." Margaret and I had the wonderful privilege a little over a year ago of visiting Zimbabwe, where we spent two weeks visiting in congregations and mission stations of The United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe and one week at Africa University. One of the visits was to a rural community named Nenohwe. I met there the pastor and a group of members of the Nenohwe United Methodist Church. They took me to their church building, which was under construction. They were making the bricks for it themselves, and they had already made 60,000 bricks. They had laid the foundation with stone gathered from the surrounding fields, and inside the foundation they had placed dirt and rocks to make the floor. The next step was to be the raising of the walls. They wanted me to pray for their church. I began to bow my head to pray, and they stopped me - until we could all gather INSIDE the foundation. Then I prayed. I have no doubt about the vitality of that congregation. They will never build a structure as magnificent as this one in which we are gathered this morning, but there is no question about the magnificence of their spiritual foundation. It is the same as this one. Two congregations: One in Zimbabwe, with a hundred persons at the most, in a rock, dirt, and homemade brick building constructed by the worshipers. One at the corner of Queens and Providence Roads in Charlotte, worshiping today in a sanctuary constructed and paid for by persons long since gone to glory. But both of them grounded in Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Church. You know the truth of what we sang at the beginning of this service of worship: "The Church's One Foundation Is Jesus Christ Her Lord." You are A COMMUNITY GROUNDED IN JESUS CHRIST And you are A COMMUNITY THAT HAS BEEN NURTURED THROUGH WORSHIP! For 75 years you have been nurtured in worship - weekly worship. First it was in the auditorium at Queens College. Then it was in the community store which occupied this site prior to the construction of this sanctuary. I have loved, since I first heard it. almost a decade ago, Bob Dalton's observation. Bob, as most of you know, is still in this congregation, a son of one of the founding members of the church. I have loved it, Bob. He said, "I have been coming to this corner for bread all my life." And for the last 70 years you and others have come to this building for the bread of life. Again, an inscription, this one over the main entrance at the rear of the sanctuary: "Enter To Worship." They knew from the beginning, those who founded this church, that central to its identity was this act of worship. Worship has been called the most distinctive identifying aspect of the church. The worship of God is the one thing the church does that no other institution in our society does. There are other institutions which provide educational experiences. There are other institutions which serve the needs of people. But the church is the only institution in our society which regularly, as part of its identity and life, gathers for the worship of God. Think for a moment about the power of worship in this place over 75 years. It has not been the same for all those years. The sanctuary itself has changed: in the beginning the pulpit was in the center, with the choir behind - until the chancel was divided and the altar moved to the wall and a beautiful dossal cloth added in the early 1950's. The order of service has changed numerous times over the years. The pipe organ was not here at the beginning, and it has been rebuilt in the last five years. Some worship now at Church in the Round. The congregation has long ago grown past the point that everyone can get inside to worship together. There have been changes - these and others. But the essential thing is that there has been worship here at Queens and Providence for 75 years, at the center of the life of this congregation. When in Zimbabwe last year I visited Mutambara, one of the mission centers of The United Methodist Church there. I saw the elementary and high schools, and the machine shop where students are taught welding, auto repairs, small engine repair, and where they maintain all the vehicles of the Mutambara Mission Center. Then I visited the hospital - 124 beds, serving 130,000 people in the Chimanimani District of Eastern Zimbabwe. One of three physicians who were there at the time was Dr. Rudy from Wisconsin. When he retired from practice in Wisconsin in 1994 he went back to Mutambara, his second tour there. He and the other physicians and nurses deliver 85-100 babies per month. The physicians handle the Caesarean and problem deliveries; midwives care for all the rest. There is a "Waiting Mothers Home" with 24 beds for women in the last month of pregnancy. They care for themselves, cooking their meals communally on open air stoves under a covered outdoor shelter. Two of the wards in the hospital deal with tuberculosis; 90% of those patients are HIV positive. Dr. Rudy talked about the shortage of staff, the problem of aging equipment, the challenge of treating patients the majority of whom will die from preventable diseases (AIDS and malaria). I asked him how he coped with all those challenges, and in response he showed me the chapel, where the hospital staff worship together every day from 7:00 to 7:30 a.m. Remarkable! The power of worship to nurture and renew life, to strengthen us for the challenges, to bind us into community. What has it meant that for 75 years, at this place, the people of God in this congregation have gathered to worship? What has it meant in terms of encouragement for life's challenges, direction in focusing service, nurture in the shaping of values, the deepening of the life of the spirit, the transformation of minds from conformity to the ways of the world to conformity to the will of God, undergirding for families in times of celebration and of crisis? You are A COMMUNITY THAT HAS BEEN NURTURED THROUGH WORSHIP. And the power of that identity promises to continue for the near and distant future. Never underestimate the power of that identity. You are A COMMUNITY GROUNDED IN JESUS CHRIST. You are A COMMUNITY THAT HAS BEEN NURTURED THROUGH WORSHIP And there is one more thing: You are A COMMUNITY THAT HAS BEEN DEFINED BY MISSION! That is one of the remarkable things about this congregation - your commitment to mission, your commitment to reach out beyond yourselves and touch the needs of persons whom you will never know with the grace and love of Jesus Christ. When we left you and went to South Carolina a little over four years ago, I continually encountered one specific question about this church. 'Tell us, 11 people would say, "about that capital campaign - the one in which you gave away almost half the money for mission causes. 11 For you, in a way, that kind of thing was simply another example of letting your doing express your being - of acting in a manner consistent with your identity. Look at the history of this congregation: -for years one of the leading churches in Methodism in giving to Advance Special mission causes; -for years gathering in a magnificent Easter offering to be distributed to a variety of mission causes outside your own walls; -for years providing unprecedented support, in both dollars and people, to the Bethlehem Center in Charlotte; -for years annually sending persons on mission teams to places near and far around the globe, youth and adults - building teams, medical mission teams, Habitat teams, hurricane and flood relief; -demonstrating in these and so many ways that you know that to be the church means that you are called to give yourselves away in the name of Jesus. Let me go to Zimbabwe one more time - to Africa University. When Margaret and I entered that campus for the first time in August, 1999 we were thrilled to see students there playing soccer and basketball on playing fields and courts provided by this congregation. I have heard that you are in the planning stages of a new campaign - to provide much-needed additional facilities for the expanding ministries of this church. I have also heard that you will include in this campaign as well an outreach component so that, even as you take the next step in construction for the ministries here, you will also reach out with ministries to others. How do I respond to hearing that? I said, "Of course! That's who this church is." 10 You are A COMMUNITY THAT HAS BEEN DEFINED BY MISSION III So today we celebrate: 75 years of ministry. We celebrate that past and its identity: -GROUNDED IN JESUS CHRIST; -NURTURED THROUGH WORSHIP; -DEFINED BY MISSION. Out of that past you will create your future. 'To be is to do?" "To do is to be?" Or, "Dooby, Dooby, Do?" Maybe that's it, after all. "Dooby, Dooby, Do." Do/Be/Do/Be/Do! Let your doing flow from your being. That's what this church has worked at for 75 years. The Hymn of Promise has it right: "From the past shall come the future ..." What a past to celebrate! What a future to create! Anniversary Week Wednesday, October 25, 2000 Seasons of Love: A 75 th Anniversary Gala - 6:00pm, Westbrook Hall This church-wide celebration is on the exact date of the establishing of MPUMC. Enjoy a nostalgic musical evening featuring dinner and the sights and sounds of the past 75 years. Thursday, October 26, 2000 The Riga Dome Boys Choir from Latvia - 7:00pm, Sanctuary A choir of musically gifted boys, professionally trained and accompanied by tenors and basses, represents the finest European choral tradition. This choir was unknown to western audiences prior to 1989, although it was quite famous within the Soviet Union. During the last decade it has toured the world and received international acclaim from Japan to North America and throughout Europe. Friday, October 27, 2000 Fall Family Fest - 7:00pm Westbrook Hall Children and their parents dress up in their finest costumes and join in this night of games, fun. and surprised. The Family Fest features everything from hay rides, space walk and temporary tattoos to an old-fashioned cupcake walk. Saturday, October 28, 2000 Fall Service Day - 9:00am - Noon. Aldersgate Hall Meet for juice and doughnuts then break into groups for service projects both at the church and at various MPUMC supported agencies throughout Charlotte. Childcare for ages 2 and under. Service projects for ages 3 -third grade will be held in Aldersgate Hall. All ages invited. Sunday, October 29, 2000 Anniversary Sunday Worship - Sanctuary 8:30 and 1 1:00am, Church in the Round 9:00am Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey, Sanctuary Preacher Chapel Choir, Brass Charlotte, and Percussion. Reception in Westbrook Hall following 11:00am Service.